Commitment to an ideal often requires financial backing if it is to become a reality. #EngageWithOceans has already hosted some high-flown hopes for the future, but we thought we’d inject a little pragmatism.
So, in this edition of the podcast, we thought we’d take a look at “Investing in the Oceans” and, along the way, remind ourselves that investment can take many forms. Money, of course, but also time, study, and technical competence. Indeed, does investment bring responsibility for the ocean’s future?
Amy Novogratz and Karan Sawhney
To help us, we were joined by Amy Novogratz, co-founder and Managing Partner of the Aqua-Spark investment fund and Karan Sawhney, the Norwegian representative of the UN Global Compact.
We began on a hard financial note. Amy was clear that larger institutional investors were now beginning to move their money into the aquaculture sector. “We’re seeing VCs and investment funds getting more and more excited about what aquaculture can do,” she said. “There’s a recognition that sustainable food production is going to be demanded by consumers and that brings huge potential.”
Karan, whose work at the UN Global compact matches businesses, banks and policy makers, agreed. “I’m always being asked about sustainability,” he pointed out. “What can we do, how can we do more, and what is needed?” However, he also pointed out one important qualifier: Different sectors have different perspectives. “Take plastic,” he said. “Some say it should be removed from the ocean, others say it should be prevented from getting there, while still others say manufacturers should remove it from their processes.” Finding common ground could be challenging.
Amy, however, was optimistic. “If you look at today rather than 10 years ago, there’s much more alignment on what we’re trying to achieve. The roadmaps can be different, but different groups are now working together in ways I haven’t seen in other sectors,” she said.
She added something that chimes heavily with the thinking behind #EngageWithOceans.“I think it’s good to have different perspectives because companies see the other side of the story. Having differences of opinion, other actors, makes for better conversations and creates passion to solve the problems.”
Mention of other actors turned the conversation global. Was the same sort of thinking going on in different parts of the globe? Did Asia have the same concerns and did it benefit from the boom in initiatives? From her experience at Aqua-Spark, Amy was unequivocal. “When it comes to aquaculture, Europe is actually lagging behind,” she said. “South Asia is taking the lead a bit and looking at incredible opportunities.”
What, then, we wondered, about regulation? Entrepreneurs are now known for their love of regulation, so what was the role for the international community? Amy pointed out that financial regulations do exist around the globe, but success with guidelines were the subject of a great deal of work. “There are a lot of people working on sustainability and resilient food systems,” she pointed out, “and there’s a great desire to have them set globally.”
Karan pointed out that the UN was not a regulator, but a convenor for global and regional discussion. However, he pointed out that governments were becoming involved in setting the parameters for national development – particularly in places such as Norway.
Amy pointed out such developments were positive, moving investors away from “a box-ticking” approach. “We need to find new ways of moving capital, not the sector,” she said. We closed by investigating who could get left behind in this blue economy boom. Was it, we asked, a “developed world” phenomenon, while the developing world was being left behind? Both Amy and Karan agreed that projects in the developing world could have a greater impact in the local economy, but returns would perhaps be slower in coming.
“We’ve been investing in a tilapia aquaculture business in Mozambique,” said Amy, “in an economy that needs employment and well-produced protein. “The returns are there, but it can be a longer road.” Karan agreed. “They sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve,” he said.